1. A marine honor guard practices carrying the casket for the funeral of Bunny Long, 22, killed in Anbar Province, Iraq. Hughson, Calif., March 22, 2006. 2. After the funeral for Scott McLaughlin, 29, killed in Ramadi, Iraq. Waterbury, Vt., October 1, 2005. 3. “Lebanon.” 4. “World Map.” 5. “Boots and Raincoats, San Diego, Calif.,” 2006. 6. “Young Farmer, Fair Oaks, Calif.,” 2006 7. Still from “Mr. Pickup,” 2001. 8. Still from “A la Claire Fontaine,” 2001. All images courtesy of the artists.
Art can change the way we see the world, and sometimes, that’s the first step toward social change. In November, four alumnae/i artists came to campus to discuss how their art investigates and illuminates social and political concerns. The event was organized by photography faculty member Joel Sternfeld, with whom they each studied.
Elin O’Hara Slavick ’88 creates maps of places the U.S. has bombed since World War II. She begins by dripping paint onto paper, creating a splotched background that brings to mind the messy and uncontainable nature of bombs. Upon this mottled landscape she draws maps of countries and cities, all from an aerial perspective, all devoid of people. “In the drawings, as in war, civilians are rendered invisible,” she explained. The images, representing 48 bombing sites, are collected in Bomb After Bomb: A Violent Cartography (Charta, 2007).
Civilians are quite visible in the work of Andrew Lichtenstein ’88, whose photographs document the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq War. He walked a careful line in making the photos, which are collected in Never Coming Home (Charta, 2007). “I was doing this project out of political anger, but the families didn’t necessarily share that feeling,” he said, explaining that he didn’t want the families to feel uncomfortable with their representation in the book. The resulting photos are both a tribute to the families’ sacrifices and a powerful anti-war statement, making visible the emptiness and loss at the heart of war.
Not all socially conscious art is overtly political. Taj Forer ’04 captures the idealistic vision of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf schools and the biodynamic method of agriculture, in gentle photographs of haystacks, maypoles, children, and farmers. Steiner’s philosophies emphasized connection to the natural world, and the photos reveal a kind of rural utopia where human education harmonizes with the environment. Images from Forer’s book, The Threefold Sun (Charta, 2007), were displayed at Yossi Milo Gallery in the fall.
In his video installations, John Pilson ’91 investigates a unique landscape of a different sort: the corporate office building. One video shows two businessmen enthusiastically singing do-wop in the halls of the World Trade Center; in another, a businessman trying to leave for a meeting keeps dropping his books and papers on the floor even as he attempts to pick them up—a process that goes on for 28 minutes. Pilson’s videos are humorous, but they’re also deeply human, reminding us that even in an office building, people are still people, and no amount of compartmentalization can fully contain the buoyancy and strangeness of our human selves.
Pilson has a personal involvement in the life of institutions. He became interested in the subject in the 1990’s, when he worked at Merrill Lynch as a graphic designer; his own cubicle features in some of the videos, and the actors are his friends and family members. “That landscape became my life, but it also became my subject,” he said.
—Suzanne Walters Gray MFA ’04